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(Corbis)
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Young Entrepreneurs Council

Seven ways to avoid foolish business errors Add to ...

Since we started Mindvalley, we’ve blossomed to more than 100 employees and revenue has shot past $15 million (U.S.) a year. We’ve become one of the biggest sellers of educational content online, mostly in meditation and personal growth, but we’re expanding fast into other fields. We just hit 1.3 million subscribers and our 200,000th paying student.

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We’ve done it all without taking any funds or loans. Which means I currently still own 100 per cent of my business.

It did not happen fast. Mindvalley took nine years to build. Some years were fun. Some years were brutal. I started with $2,000, lost money in the first two months, became profitable in the third month and just kept reinvesting profits into the company.

The upside is a company that is built around my passions – meditation, personal growth, play, culture, travel and epic interior design (our offices are magical). And having total ownership means I’m not pressured by partners, boards or investors to deliver something that I’m not passionate about.

But the climb was hard and long. And I almost lost it all on multiple occasions. I’ve made dumb mistakes. I’ve had dizzying successes. I’ve been depressed and I’ve been high. Most of all — I’ve learned and grown. And I want to share some advice.

To younger entrepreneurs who are starting out, if you want to avoid the dumb mistakes I made, here’s what I would say:

1. Your college degree is meaningless (and sometimes a liability). I (barely) graduated from the University of Michigan School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. My GPA was just over 2.5. I just could not focus on my engineering classes completely. So what did I focus on in university? Volunteer work, traveling and working abroad, pouring through books on business and entrepreneurship, learning photography, and working with theater troupes.

I never got good at ONE thing. But having exposure to many different things helped give me an edge as an entrepreneur.

I think I was lucky to be a mediocre engineer. If I was successful I might be trapped in a 9-to-5 job as an engineer. The best employees are specialists. The best entrepreneurs tend to be generalists.

Don’t waste your time pursuing a perfect GPA. Instead, embrace the idea of a generalist education. I majored in computer engineering and minored in performing arts. My best subject was digital photography. And I spent more time volunteering for the local chapter of AIESEC (a foreign work exchange program) than actually studying.

All, in retrospect, were smart decisions: Having basic knowledge of programming (my programming grades were usually a C) still allowed me to build Mindvalley’s early websites myself. Minoring in drama helped me learn stage presence and become a good speaker. Photography gave me an eye for aesthetics and design. And volunteering allowed me to see the world and meet other cultures.

Steve Jobs said you can’t connect the dots looking forward, only backward. Today it appears that everything I chose to study played a key role in my life and business success. Your college degree is meaningless. Your college EXPERIENCE is what matters. Don’t waste it pursuing a high GPA at the expense of soaking up everything college life has to offer.

2. Don’t quit your day job too soon. In the early days, quitting your day job is one of the dumbest mistakes I’ve seen entrepreneurs make. You’re going to need cash flow to survive, to travel, and to buy services like hosting and email solutions. And you won’t know how long it will take to get funding or generate cash flow. Unless you’ve got cash to live off, sooner or later those funds will run out.

But the real problem happens when you start worrying about money. Your flow breaks. You start second guessing your ideas. You stay up in bed at night worried about paying the bills. Don’t quit your day job. It provides security and cash flow till you can break even or get funding.

Of course, make sure you have a day job that doesn’t require you to work ludicrous hours. If you have a job that you enjoy, it’s even dumber to quit cold. The loneliness of striking it out on your own and the boredom of working at home for eight hours a day will get to you. Juggle both till you have cash flow coming in that allows you to survive.

I started my business on Dec. 22, 2002 while still holding a day job. I would work eight-hour days and then come home and put in another two hours on what would eventually become Mindvalley. I only quit my day job in November, 2003 when I found myself generating $4,000 a month, which was enough to cover my day-to-day expenses.

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